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Commerce adds joy to the season


Well, the grouches didn't ruin it for us, did they? You get it from all sides around this time of the year—"Xmas has become too commercial, too materialistic, lost its spirituality, blah, blah, blah." At the same time,of course, we also hear a lot of people urging us to be generous, give of ourselves, give to those who are in need, etc.

As the old sage Aristotle taught, however, there is no way to be generous unless one owns stuff, unless one refuses to do what governments like to do, namely first steal from people and then turn a bit of it over to some other people. Not a pretty picture! So in order to be generous, to give of ourselves, first we must go out and buy or otherwise honestly obtain things. That's where shopping comes in. And not only does shopping provide us with what we can purchase and then give away out of our generosity but it provides those from whom we do the shopping with enough wealth to enable them to be generous and to give of themselves. Quite the pretty merry-go-round, don't you think?

So what's supposed to be so bad about all this? Clearly it is very satisfying to find just the right gift for those whom we wish to benefit, people we love or like a lot. We need to learn a bit about them, we need to know what it is that will please them. Each time of gift-giving faces us with the challenge of finding something that will in fact please the recipient of our gifts. And the reward is the joy in their voices and eyes when they open a thoughtful gift. My own children are masters of this craft, having for years been very attentive to what it is that pleases me and coming up with truly apt presents ones that not only please me but prompt me to see them in a renewed light, as rather ingenious gift finders.

Commerce is not a necessary evil sideshow here but of the essence, what with the market place's enormous variety of offerings so all the millions of diverse needs and wants can in principle be satisfied (provided we do put in some care about what we set out to find for those to whom we give gifts). But of course the market-haters don't care about this. They jump at the chance of besmirching markets even as they are a vital, necessary part of generous giving and receiving. Even those who do not give a hoot about Christmas, who ordinarily scoff at religious holidays, will exploit the opportunity to belittle the way the holiday is in part being celebrated, namely, through the exchange of gifts that commerce facilitates so well.

Who can deny that anything can be corrupted, and there are those who look upon the whole thing in a way that renders it but some routine undertaking, even a chore. But that's not the way to judge the occasion, by how the lazy people carry on about it. Those who give gifts from mere habit, put no mind to the task, write cards to a list on which are names they cannot even recall. However, to focus on such folks is to reveal one's basic cynicism. They bring their own misery upon themselves and need not be bothered with, I believe.

I do not think it is an accident that so many major religious have managed to locate some big holidays around Xmas time. I see this as motivated mainly from the desire to celebrate together, to take part in a common feeling that has extended over billions across the world, the feeling that generosity toward those for whom we care is wonderful and it is also wonderful to know how many other human beings recognize this fact. That there are commercial elements to it, that generate the ability of more and more people to take part in the celebration and joy, that's all to the good.

So, go away you nay-sayers who want to ruin it for the rest of us by working so hard to induce guilt in us all with all this finger wagging about our commercialism and materialism. There is nothing at all wrong with giving and obtaining material goods, generating all this giving and getting among our family and friends, provided these goods are thoughtfully chosen and bring their providers and recipients pleasure. Moreover, if you think but for a moment you will realize that all those material goods have, in fact, a great deal of human spirit giving them a great variety of shapes and forms, so the fact of their being "material" hardly comes to mind. All those gifts are not only designed with intelligence and ingenuity but come from vital and often profound feelings people have for one another.

The more the merrier—and let's also celebrate the commercial element that makes it all possible.

Tibor R. Machan (1939 - 2016) was a Hoover research fellow, Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, Auburn University, Alabama, and held the R. C. Hoiles Endowed Chair in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman University.

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